In an act which is probably best described as cultural barbarism, the UK government has cut the subsidy to the UK based book charity Booktrust, taking away some £13 million pounds.
The charity's national book-gifting programmes are well-known and wide-reaching. Bookstart gives a free pack of books to every baby in the UK, Booktime donates a book pack to children shortly after they start school, and Booked Up enables each child starting secondary school to choose a book for themselves. The charity's aim is to give everyone the chance to experience what it calls "the delight and power of books and the written word" regardless of income, literacy skills, disability or culture.
The government's £13m was used to generate a further £56m-worth of sponsorship for the bookgifting schemes from publishing partners and corporate sponsors.
In an age when concerns about literacy levels are increasing every day, and the cost of higher education is becoming prohibitive for all but the well off (or those prepared to start their working lives with debts of more than £30,000) it is nothing short of madness to add to this trend rather than attempt to solve it.
If I was a writer of speculative fiction (and I am) I would see this as the first step towards creating a drone underclass, incapable of anything other than taking orders from those who have set themselves up as their social superiors. Eugenics, anyone? There is a chilling Orwellian taint to this whole thing, mixed liberally with a touch of Aldous Huxley, and a whole helping of Thatcherism.
To my mind it is only common sense to help create a literate, educated population, particularly in a time when traditional industry has all but vanished from the United Kingdom and when we need to look more and more to non-traditional and creative industry but without an educated population we cannot do this.
Our government is a sham, to say the least, caring little or nothing about the working classes, or indeed the middle classes.
Many writers, teacher and librarians have already expressed their dismay and disgust at the withdrawal of the Booktrust's funding, (leading to a partial about-face by the Liberal/Conservative government.) I am adding my voice to this, if you care about the future of literacy in this country, please add yours.